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What is a Hypocrite?

Updated on July 7, 2014
lambservant profile image

Lori Colbo is an online media writer who's passion is writing on her Christian faith. Her other passion is being Nana to 12 grandchildren.

While the Christian commits a sin he hates it; whereas the hypocrite loves it while he forbears it. ~William Gurnall

What is a true hypocrite?

Many times Christians are called hypocrites because they do things that go against what the Bible teaches, teachings that they preach about. Non-Christians use this as a reason to not go to church or become a follower of Jesus Christ. I know of a pastor who says, "Well, there's always room for one more." I wouldn't say that to someone, but he has a point.

In the New Testament, Jesus, in a very confrontational way, directs the name "hypocrite" to the religious leaders of the day. And yet he does not call his disciples hypocrites when they fail to live up to what Jesus preaches. What is the difference here? Is this Jesus' double standard? No, not at all.

Strongs Concordance (# 5272, 5273) states that the word hypocrite comes from the Greek hypokritis. Very simply put, it is an actor. One who pretends to be someone he is not. You could also call them charlatans, pretenders, phonies, deceivers, etc. The idea is that their acting or deception is intentional.

Pharisees, the ultimate hypocrites

The Pharisees (the Jewish religious leaders in Jesus' day) were the epitome of hypocrisy. They claimed to live in obedience to the Old Testament law, and made a show of doing so. Furthermore, they scrutinized everyone else to call them on their sin (the beam and the speck). They would make a big show out of going to the temple, and with much to-do, pay their tithes (10 percent of their income). They patted themselves on the back for their generous giving to the blind beggar at Nicanor Gate. They prayed long, eloquent, pious prayers in front of the crowds. They claimed they knew their Torah, taught it proudly, and went to temple whenever the doors were open. They offered sacrifices, performed all their rituals, and celebrated all the religious holidays. And they were very quick to jump in and condemn Jews who disobeyed the law. They wore phylacteries with the word of God on them. On the outside these men seemed to all the world to be pious, holy, righteous, and religious men, devoted to God in the practice of and enforcement of the law.

But Jesus saw through them. He got right in their face and called them hypocrites, broods of vipers, and white washed sepulchers in Matthew 23. It's a long passage, as it takes up most of the chapter. If you don't feel like reading the whole thing, just look at a few verses and realize that that was his discourse all the way to the end.

Jesus, in Matthew 6, warns the disciples not to behave like the hypocrites by sounding a horn when they do charitable deeds to be seen and praised by men (vs. 2); not pray out loud in the synagogue and in the street like the hypocrites do, so that men might see them and praise them; not to look like they are suffering when they are fasting like the hypocrites do, so that people will see how pious they are because they fast. Jesus follows each of these remarks with the exhortation to keep these things private, just between them and God.

Pharisees looking down on the common folk.
Pharisees looking down on the common folk. | Source

The story of the sinner and the Pharisee

In Luke 18, Jesus tells the story of a Pharisee who was wealthy and highly regarded as a man of God and good citizen, and a tax collector, the most despised of men in the land. Tax collectors did nothing but lie and cheat people out of their money to fill their pockets. They did not have friends anywhere, except for other tax collectors. The Pharisees were seemingly holy on the outside, but were thieves, cheaters, heartless, and self-serving. This story is quite telling about the difference between a proud, self-righteous man (the Pharisee), and a tax collector who has come face to face with his sin and repents before God. Guess who God forgives? Hear the story from Jesus Himself in this video:

The Pharisee and the Tax Collector

The pharisees minded what God spoke, but not what He intended. They were busy in the outward work of the hand, but incurious of the affections and choice of the heart. So God was served in the letter, they did not much inquire into His purpose; and therefore they were curious to wash their hands, but cared not to purify their hearts.

~ Jeremy Taylor

Who was forgiven?

The answer is that the tax collector was forgiven and welcome in heaven when his time on earth was done. Why? Because of his sincere repentance, utter humility, and whole-hearted desire to be right before God. Not only that, but he never pretended to be a holy person. The Pharisee looked down his nose at the tax collector, feeling superior and trying very hard to show God how pure and holy he himself was. Jesus knew both of their hearts. The Pharisee is the hypocrite because he is playing the actor by doing all the outward religious actions, but in his heart he could care less what God requires of his heart, and his life underneath is evil. Paul got it right when he said, "For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death" (2 Cor. 7:10).

What about the sinning disciples?

When Jesus was taken away at His arrest, the disciple Peter followed along at a distance to see what would happen to Jesus. He was full of fear that he too might be beaten and persecuted. Here is what happened when Peter denied that he knew Christ:

"Hypocrites in the Church? Yes, and in the lodge and at the home. Don't hunt through the Church for a hypocrite. Go home and look in the mirror. Hypocrites? Yes. See that you make the number one less."
Billy Sunday

Jesus forgave Peter

If you noticed in this dramatization of Peter's denial of Christ, when Peter realized what he had done, he wept in sorrow and shame at what he had done. Later on, after Jesus was resurrected from the dead, he told Mary Magdalene to go tell the disciples and Peter that He had risen. Later still, Peter and Jesus were on the beach, and Jesus welcomed Peter back. He knew Peter deep inside was repentant. Peter, under the power of the Holy Spirit, went on to lead the first Church and preached one of the greatest soul- winning sermons ever on the day of Pentecost. Peter was not proud after his sin, he did not deny that he had sinned. But he turned away from it and back to God. God know our hearts. God once told Samuel the prophet "God looks on the heart, not outward appearances."

After His resurrection, Jesus expressed love and forgiveness to Peter at breakfast on the beach.
After His resurrection, Jesus expressed love and forgiveness to Peter at breakfast on the beach. | Source

The adulterous woman and her accusers

In John 8, a group of religious leaders of Jesus' day brought to him a woman caught in the act of adultery. They told him "Lord, we caught her in the very act. Moses said she should be stoned. What do you say?" The Bible says that Jesus stooped down and began drawing on the sand. We are not told what he wrote, but he finally looked up at them and said, "He who is without sin, throw the first stone." Here is the rest of the story:

Then those who heard it, being convicted by their conscience, went out one by one, beginning with the oldest even to the last. And Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst. When Jesus had raised Himself up and saw no one but the woman, He said to her, “Woman, where are those accusers of yours? Has no one condemned you?”

She said, “No one, Lord.”

And Jesus said to her, “Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more.”

Notice their consciences were convicted. That means that whatever Jesus was writing (there is speculation he was writing down their sins), along with his words to "cast the first stone if you are sinless," pierced their consciences, and they suddenly knew their own sins. Considering their pompousness, arrogance, self-righteousness, and lives of hypocrisy, it says a lot that their consciences were pricked, an unusual occurrence for them.

The woman did not get off scot free with Jesus' blessing to continue on with her way of life. Rather, He saw her sense of shame, her repentant heart, and thus told her "Go, and sin no more."

It is sad that those who consciences were pricked did not repent.

Jesus forgave the adulteress because of her repentant attitude.
Jesus forgave the adulteress because of her repentant attitude.

How can we avoid being a hypocrite?

See results

The difference

The difference is this: A true hypocrite lives a deliberate life of pretending in both worlds. He is not just one who has occasional moments of hypocrisy; it's a consistent lifestyle of deliberate deception. Because they are often very good actors, we may not be able to discern that they are fake. Personally, I don't think it's my job to figure out who is or who isn't. I have my moments of being angry when a public figure proclaiming to be a believer turns out to have made a bad name for Christians by some disgraceful thing. But sometimes, he just sinned, recognizes it, hates it, and truly repents by changing his ways seeking to make it right.

What I need to be focusing on is not being a hypocrite myself. I have had many hypocritical moments in my life, as everyone on the planet has. Most people are just your average, garden variety, sinners, who seek to live in a way that pleases God, but as human beings, blow it now and then. A humble, genuine believer will, upon realizing his sin, hate it, own it, be sorry for it, make his amends, and turn from the behavior. William Gurnall said, "While the Christian commits a sin he hates it; whereas the hypocrite loves it while he forbears it." I think that states the difference very succinctly.

© 2011 Lori Colbo


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    • lambservant profile image

      Lori Colbo 3 years ago from Pacific Northwest

      Thank you for your comment Ozinato. They fail to see it because they are blinded by pride. Good point you brought up. Thanks.

    • Oztinato profile image

      Oztinato 3 years ago from Australia

      An excellent and necessary Hub.

      I find it hard to understand why intelligent scientific atheists fail to see this simple point. I feel they do it deliberatly and in a conscious unrepentent way.

    • profile image

      Rayne123 5 years ago

      Great hub, such true words

      Thank you


    • wordsmith2418 profile image

      Veronica Lewis 6 years ago from Pocono Mountains, Pennsylvania

      Excellent hub! Very well-written. This is just the kind of article that needs to be read by those who are struggling with their Christian walk. Many times, the enemy will try to make people believe that because they have made a mistake, there is no hope for them. But your point that God looks on the heart is so vital for us. We will all make mistakes and fall, but when we repent and get back up, God as a loving Father is so pleased with us. Thank you for a beautiful piece. I'm going to use this to go with a Bible study I'm preparing for my children.

    • profile image

      Eddie-Perkins 6 years ago

      This is an excellent hub Lambservant. I love the way you go back and forth showing the contrast between the hypocrites (actors) and the true servants. Vote up and useful.

    • Hyphenbird profile image

      Brenda Barnes 6 years ago from America-Broken But Still Beautiful

      It is interesting how the Holy Spirit brings those who are in hypocrisy to light. Some people are mislead, sometimes we fail simply because we are human, but some know exactly what they are doing. That is being a hypocrite and enjoying it. How sad. But the truth of God's Word stands clean and righteous and one day all of us, hypocrites included, will bow and worship Jesus. Confession and repentance then will be too late. That breaks my heart for those who will not listen and for Jesus, who loves us all.

    • lambservant profile image

      Lori Colbo 6 years ago from Pacific Northwest

      LG, I think we can all join you in thanking God for His work in our lives. Amen

    • lifegate profile image

      William Kovacic 6 years ago from Pleasant Gap, PA


      There certainly are warnings for hypocrites to be aware of. Thanks for pointing that out because from time to time I fall into the hypocrisy hole. Hypocrisy can be seen by everyone and so easily detected. As Tamarajo says above, "We have all been hypocrites at one time or another. But thanks be to God when he gets ahold of our hearts and leads back to the way of repentance."

    • lambservant profile image

      Lori Colbo 6 years ago from Pacific Northwest

      Tamarajo, wonderful insights. I actually had the same thing about hypocrisy come to me. But I went to my pastor and told him I thought I was a hypocrite. After talking for a long time, he saw my sorrow at my sin and that I truly wanted to be a godly woman reflecting God's light. He explained to me the true meaning of hypocrite and felt that I wasn't an actor deliberately trying to decieve, but a broken disciple of God struggling with sin in my life.

      That being said, I am still wrestling with certain sins and sometimes go back to the hypocrite thing. I believe that we are only hypocrites if we deliberately deceive ourselves and others that we are Christians yet walk in darkness.

      Amen to Romans 1. There is no excuse. I also like what you said about unbelievers hiding behind other's hypocrisy. The language is more meaningful than I was able to put into words.

      We have all been hypocrites at one time or another. But thanks be to God when he gets ahold of our hearts and leads back to the way of repentance. God bless sister.

    • Tamarajo profile image

      Tamarajo 6 years ago

      Excellent clarification of what hypocrite means.

      I think hypocrisy comes in two forms on opposite ends of the spectrum. The kind you describe above as in the professional religious who are out for the praise of men and to exalt themselves in men's eyes by appearing to be holy and more righteous than others and there is the other that Jesus describes as those professing to know Him yet living consciously immoral lives to which He says will be counted as hypocrisy as well. Matthew 24:48-51 and in the latter account I think we have lost much respect and our audience with the world. The church right now is not looking very pretty as an example of living for God and righteousness.

      I was confronted with this issue personally by God Himself several years ago when I distinctly heard Him tell me in my heart that I was a hypocrite because of the things I was habitually doing yet professing that I belonged to Him. I can clearly see now how that may have given Him a bad name in the eyes of those watching my life. In fact I think that is what the commandment "do not take my name in vain" means. To live lives that glorify His name rather than discredit it in our behaviors.

      I do agree that the unbelieving use hypocrisy as an excuse to reject God not realizing that none of us is God therefore will not reach perfection this side of heaven.

      When I came to know God I did not base my desire to know Him on the behavior of others in fact it never really crossed my mind. Not sure this excuse will gain any bonus points when all is said and done.

      I also heard someone say that you must be bigger than the thing you hide behind. To hide behind someone else's hypocrisy would require that the accuser present themselves more holy than hypocrite they accuse which makes it a very illogical rationale in the argument to disbelieve God based on the perceived hypocrisy of His followers.

      The "hypocrite" excuse also flies in the face of Romans chapter 1

      20 For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse

      If we are hypocritical we will be judged for that but according to the above verse The hypocrisy of others will not be a viable excuse for those who chose not to believe.

      A thought provoking read.

    • Paradise7 profile image

      Paradise7 6 years ago from Upstate New York

      Ah, true. We all do fail at times; we need to keep our hearts as pure and faithful as a child's, as much as we can.

    • Dave Mathews profile image

      Dave Mathews 6 years ago from NORTH YORK,ONTARIO,CANADA

      Truly we must strive to Gorw in Christ, even though we err from time to time.


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